Heather Taylor Johnson and the #metoo Movement

Earlier this year, Natalie Kon-yu, Christie Nieman, Maggie Scott, and Miriam Sved produced the anthology #metoo, an anthology of essays and poetry by Australian writers on the subject of the #metoo movement. The Tulpa team has recently been in contact with writer Heather Taylor Johnson to discuss her involvement in the anthology and the importance of #metoo as a political movement.

Why is the #metoo anthology so timely?

Feminism has always been inevitable (it existed long before a man named Charles Fourierit so generously named it for us) and it will forever be a force. The #metoo movement is another phase of history’s (herstory’s) feminist wave and so it follows that the #metoo anthology is a document of its time. Look around at what’s happening now with the rise of populism and the eerie what-if of The Handmaid’s Tale. This is where we are and it’s scary times. Toxic masculinity is killing women at regular and alarming rates through domestic violence, killing hoards of people through mass shootings, encouraging rape cultures in universities and rugby clubs, forcing women to be compliant if they want to keep their jobs. At this point in feminism, I’d say most of the women are on board. Here is where we gather the men. In my opinion this anthology is about educating ourselves, women and men – especially men – so that we can responsibly raise the next generation of boys. Here is where we make a radical cultural change.

How does the #metoo movement in Australia differ from its American counterpart?

I don’t see the two as separate, maybe because I’m American Australian. I left America as a fiery twenty-five year old woman who thought she could do anything so long as no man ever kicked in her front door to touch her while she’s sleeping again. Now an angry forty-five year old woman baffled that a man at the gym thought he was complimenting me by saying he was glad to be sparing with me and not the man in the corner because that man ‘boxes like a girl’. Nothing has changed in the nearly 14,000 kilometres I’ve travelled and nothing has changed in the last twenty years. I’m sure the movements, as geographical entities, have been influenced by and will continue to influence each other, but I see #metoo as universal – that’s what Twitter is meant to do for political issues today. That a 280-word story can be broadcast to the world and that the world can respond through a love heart or a retweet or a shared hashtag proves that this movement is community-making, and that’s what ‘global’ should mean.

Where do you see the future of the #metoo movement in Australia?

I think it’ll keep pushing the boundaries of intersectionality. Just as with Trump’s brand of popular sexism, I think, too, his overt racism – indeed the racism we’re becoming so accustomed to seeing all over the world and in shocking regularity in our own country – encourages more outspokenness among racial minorities, and people seem eager to listen. I see this in the publishing industry now where publishers are actively pursuing stories by people of colour and suddenly literature is opening up. I think the confluence of women’s stories and minority stories is where the movement is at now (and thankfully where the anthology is situated) and where it will continue to go. ‘Minority’ can mean race, it can mean disability, it can mean sexuality or gender, and these stories are enlivening the #metoo movement. There’s more discussion. There’s more room for empathy. This can only mean growth.

What does the #metoo movement mean to you and why did you decide to get involved with the anthology?

It’s not any small coincidence that the #metoo movement gained momentum during Trump’s first year as president. Women were angry, unwilling to quietly accept that someone can get elected President of the United States after saying “When you’re a star, they let you do it, grab ’em by the pussy, you can do anything”. I’m an American Australian, still struggling with what Trump means to me as a displaced citizen and still ANGRY as a woman whose body seems to be fodder for legislative decisions. Seriously? We’re still arguing about the right to have an abortion? The best I can do as an artist is to work harder, so I’m trying to focus on issues that matter to me. The poem I sent into the anthology is about a lifetime of innate fear and low expectations due to gender, and how I’d like things to be different for my daughter, and how I get the feeling that they won’t be. I didn’t know until I’d finished the poem that I was writing it for my daughter, and that’s sort of what we’re all doing: trying to make change for our daughters.

How does poetry compare to the essay as a means to discuss issues surrounding the movement?

Trump’s victory over Hillary Clinton was the beginning of a new type of political awareness for me in terms of my art. I’ve written dozens of poems calling out sexism since then and not because I want to be didactic or self-righteous, but because I simply need to get this anger out (apologies I keep bringing him up but he certainly has a lot to answer for). I write poetry and I write essays – I also write novels – and the choice to use one form over the other is often process-driven. When I need to explore questions and ideas, I write novels. When I need to rip apart incongruities and find commonalities, I write essays. When I need to release intense emotion, I write poetry. Poetry is the quickest, most satisfying way for me to dig into something I’m feeling too much and violently regurgitate it. Then I can move on. The fact that I’m still writing the poems calling out sexism means there’s a lot more for me to discharge, plenty more word-vomiting to come. I’m envisaging a collection that does just that through imagery and testimony, and the poem in the #metoo anthology is one of them.

 

You can read more about the #metoo Anthology here and the book is available for purchase online and from all good bookstores.

 


Photo by Mihai Surdu on Unsplash

 

 

Lost Roses

Lost Roses

Martha Hall Kelly

Penguin Books 2019


Martha Hall Kelly’s Lost Roses is a historical fiction which follows the chain of events up-to and following the fall of imperialism and the rise of Boshevism in Russia across World War I. Set across three continents and following the stories of four different women, Hall Kelly weaves a tale of resourcefulness, the power of friendship, and humanity.

Fictional Russians Sofya and Luba Steshnayva, together with a fortune-teller’s daughter, Varinka, and history’s Eliza Ferriday come together throughout the novel to show the strength of female friendships, particularly those that survive across continents.

Eliza Ferriday and Sofya Streshnayva are fast friends keeping a daily correspondence, even during wartime. The pair face a number of challenges in their day-to-day lives, only made worse by the conflict. For Eliza these challenges are taming her wilful daughter and mourning the loss of her husband. For Sofya, the stakes are much higher. As one of Russia’s elite and a relation to the imperial family, Sofya must flee for her life abandoning all she holds dear: her father, her sister, and her young son who was kidnapped during the seizure of the family property.

As Russia descends into chaos, Eliza (like history’s Eliza Ferriday) begins the American Central Committee for Russian Relief, aiming to help the women and children who fled the violence of Russia to regain their lives. She becomes an ambassador for White Russians and finding the women work and accommodation.

Sofya and Luba Steshnayva are cousins to the Tsar and through these characters we see the greatness of the Tsar and later crumble. Hall Kelly reveals that much of Russian aristocracy were in abject denial of the rising threat of the Red Army.

An entirely fictional character, Varinka embodies the desperation of the serfs during this time. A village outcast and in the care of her father’s murderer, Varinka and her unwell mother are completely destitute. When Varinka finds work at one of the rich country estates as a Nanny, she takes to the baby straight away, doting upon Maxwell in a way that verges on obsessive. Not quite a villain but certainly no hero, Varinka embodies the complex nature of humanity, portraying both great good, and great evil while simply trying to survive.

Lost Roses is a novel which asks us to interrogate what it means to be human. With history as our teacher and with fiction being a way to explore it, Hall Kelly shows good and evil side-by-side within a range of characters and situations. I would recommend Lost Roses to anyone with an interest in historic fiction, Russia, and the Russian Revolution.

4/5 Stars


Words by Kayla Gaskell

Myth, Propaganda and Disaster in Nazi Germany and Contemporary America

‘What does this all mean?’ I’d love to tell you, but I have no flaming idea.

 

Last Friday night, while everyone else was gearing up to hit the town, some friends and I found ourselves at Adelaide University’s Little Theatre, ready for a wholesome, thought-provoking theatrical experience to round off our week. The play on offer was Stephen Sewell’s Myth, Propaganda and Disaster in Nazi Germany and Contemporary America. Did it fulfil our hopes for the evening? Let me just say this: it was a lot to take in.

We followed the character of Talbot, played by Nick Fagan, an Australian man working at an Ivy League college in America as a Liberal Arts lecturer. The audience watches him go off his rocker as he falls victim to societal questions about terror, ignorance, and the line between patriotism and nationalism. First produced in 2003, this ‘drama in 30 scenes’ deals with the carnage left behind after September 11. Sewell is renowned for his award-winning work, with this baby being one of his big ones.

The director, Erik Strauts, expresses a strong connection with the idea that society should, but never does, learn from history – this production was an active choice to explore how this concept applies to our modern world. The discussion that this play raises remains timely; it’s been kept in the spotlight by Trump’s rise to power in recent years.

As far as the set was concerned, designer Brittany Daw managed to reflect the vibe of an exceptionally uncomfortable merge between Nazi Germany and contemporary America: the colour scheme was red and black, spotted with white and blue finishes. During scene changes, the audience’s eyes would be directed up to a projection of an imposing American flag. As the play progresses the flag takes on another dimension, subtly fading to make way for an imposing icon – so keep your eyes peeled!

From where I was sitting, there were some stand out performances. The first one that comes to mind is that of James Black, who plays Max, the Aussie best friend of our poor mad-man, Talbot. Until a sneaky twist at the end, Max served as much needed comic relief – he was the familiar Australian perspective, uttering the word ‘mate’ here and there to dilute the sea of everything American.

And then there were Stan and Jack. Jack and Stan. Jarrod Chave and Tim Edhouse were highly convincing in their roles as staff members at the college and had an appealing chemistry on stage. Chave and Edhouse’s accents were also consistent and well-established.

There was one character which, for the life of me, I could not entirely wrap my head around. If any of you figure him out, please, get in touch. Halfway through the second act we are introduced to ‘The Man’ – yes, all I can think of is the Killers song. ‘The Man’ proves to be exceedingly problematic for our protagonist. He appears to resemble someone out of the Matrix: the big black coat, the white gloves, the wrap around sunnies. A 2000s icon if there ever was one.

I’m going to say that this University of Adelaide Theatre Guild production is not for the light hearted or impatient. It’s saturated with swearing and soaked with political and philosophical lingo.

Little Theatre pic

When you ask, ‘what am I in for?’ Well, it’s dense. It’s distressing. And it’s heavy in concept. It will challenge each and every one of its viewers. Without a doubt, it appeals to an elitist audience and, unfortunately, excludes the masses – in order to get the most out of this show, you need a thorough understanding of political and societal structures, as well as familiarity with influential writers and philosophers. Otherwise, you might find yourself in struggle-town. Perhaps this is a statement from the playwright about our ignorance. Or perhaps not.

In hindsight, I find it rather peculiar that I was sitting in the theatre at Adelaide Uni, watching a play, written by an Australian playwright, which picks apart the intricacies of the American dilemma. And within this play, Australia is spoken of as a ‘pretend country’ which really drills home how America seem to define us.

The movements of America – our so called ‘big brother’ – have become part of our everyday news headlines, absorbing our constant attention, and now occupying our theatrical spaces. Do we keep feeding the American ego by granting it all this attention? Or at the other end of the spectrum, are we becoming desensitised to the U. S. of A. because we are just hearing too damn much about it? Dare I say, we should now be looking a little closer to home, starting by centring our conversations around our own country. Because I would like to think that out nation is just as great, our issues just as urgent, and what we have to offer is equally as appealing.

Some things to think about between the many questions that will be left on your conscience after this doozy of a production.

 


Showing times: 17-19 May 2018, 7:30pm.

Venue: Little Theatre, University of Adelaide.

Tickets: $28 Full/ $23 Concession

Follow the link to secure your tickets.

 


Words by Michelle Wakim